Fifth Sunday of Easter Study

5TH SUNDAY OF EASTER   05-02-2021

EASTER is 50 days, including seven Sundays, in churches that follow the liturgical calendar. The Gospel readings on the first three Sundays each Easter Season focus on the resurrection stories about the empty tomb, the messages from angels, and appearances of the Risen Lord to his followers. On the last four Sundays of each Easter Season we look at Jesus’ farewell speeches and deeper meanings of his presence, his power, and his promises as the Lord of our lives.

FIRST READING:  Acts 8:26-40

In today’s reading, Philip – one of the disciples of Jesus when Jesus was alive and now a part of that Christ movement, the Church, that was given birth and empowered on Pentecost – is instructed by an angel to go to the road that runs from Jerusalem to the southwest toward Gaza, an important city on the Mediterranean coast.     (Up to this time, according to Acts, most of the Church’s life and witness had been focused just in Jerusalem… but now it’s starting to spread out, just as Jesus had envisioned and commanded.) So Philip got up and went where the angel told him. And on that road he met a man who was reading from the prophet Isaiah. This man is not what you might expect if you were looking for converts to the new Church that was coming into being. He is not a native in the land in which he is traveling, he is a foreigner passing through. He is not a Jew by race or by religion, he is an Ethiopian, perhaps darker in complexion. He is a powerful and perhaps a wealthy man… he is a court official of the queen of the Ethiopians, he is in charge of the entire Ethiopian treasury, and he is riding in a chariot – one large enough to accommodate Philip as a guest, seated and riding along next to him. And something else. This man is a eunuch. That means that his testicles had been removed, that he had been castrated, that he had been physically mutilated, most probably without having a say in the matter, most likely early enough in life to cause major hormonal consequences. Philip would know, early readers of Acts would know, that this Ethiopian official would never have been able to worship in the Temple in Jerusalem – not because of his race, nationality, or economic status, but because of his sexual identity. But you see, this new community of Christ was different. And Philip was willing to bear fruit, to be faithful to the gospel. So Philip spoke to the Ethiopian eunuch – who had come to Jerusalem to worship (You wonder if he was even allowed to enter!) and explained the Isaiah passage to him, telling him how it pointed to the good news about Jesus. And when the Ethiopian official saw a body of water along the road and asked about being baptized, Philip was willing to bear fruit, to be faithful to the gospel. And Philip baptized this man… and, just as Philip and the man came up out of the water, the Spirit snatched Philip up… and the next thing Philip knew he was Azotus, about 19 miles away, and so he just started preaching where he found himself.

The gospel has already moved, then, from Jerusalem to Samaria and, in this text, to Gaza… from Jews to Samaritans to Gentile foreigner eunuchs. WOW!

Don’t you sense that Philip is not so much controlling his ministry as he is responding to the Spirit, being open and willing to serve? He was commanded to go, he was invited to stay and teach, he was asked to baptize, and he was picked up and carried away. Maybe that’s why Martin Luther said that the branch of the vine does not have to be taught how to bear fruit, it just does. In this story from Acts, Philip doesn’t seem to hesitate. Here in his presence was a human being who heard the good news about Jesus, who was compelled to become part of that Christ-group, and requested baptism. Who was Philip to stand in the way?

Who, how, and when have you drawn borders or accepted boundaries that excluded others from the new community that Christ’s new body, the Church, is created to be? Are you still learning that Jesus Christ is for all people… that the gospel proceeds in widening circles of inclusivity? 

Have you ever felt, like Philip, that you were being guided, led, pushed, prodded, and even blown by the Holy Spirit into fresh opportunities and new possibilities of sharing Jesus with others?   

 

SECOND READING:  1 John 4:7-21

This reading uses some form of the word LOVE no less than twenty-nine times. The author speaks of LOVE as something that all Christians are given the power and the responsibility to share, and the author writes that it is LOVE that connects us to God through Jesus… and that it is LOVE that connects us to one another through Jesus, through the Spirit of Jesus… and that,

     IF we aren’t showing forth, if we aren’t truly practicing, if we aren’t hardly trying to LOVE one another…

     THEN we aren’t really connected to Jesus, we aren’t really connected to the Spirit, we aren’t really connected

to God, we aren’t really IN and OF Christ…

even if we claim to be believers, even if we claim to be “Christian”.   

By the way, the author of The First Letter of John also uses that same language found in the Gospel of John, that same phrase about “abiding in the God, and God abiding in us”. Abide – that word isn’t used so much in daily conversation. Abiding means staying in touch – close touch. Abiding should make us think of longevity – length of time – but also of depth – commitment to the relationship. For example, Gwen and I have abided in our marriage relationship for almost 41 years. We have not just “stayed together” but have made a commitment to each other, have mutually and humbly loved one another, have been best friends in life, have been faithful to each other, have affirmed and supported each other. That’s abiding.

Both the Letter and the Gospel seem to say that – essentially – you either ARE CONNECTED or you ARE NOT CONNECTED

Are YOU connected, or is the connection broken, weak, interrupted? 

What does the phrase, “there is no fear in love”, verse 18, mean to you?

How might you want to put this sacrificial love into action this week: At home? Work? In a difficult relationship? In planning your time? Your budget? The activities you support? Your political views and involvement? Your faith community?

GOSPEL READING:  John 15:1-8

This passage offers one of the Gospel of John’s seven “I AM” sayings of Jesus. On the night of his arrest, Jesus offered his disciples private instruction and encouragement. In this reading he is teaching them about the relationship they would have with him.

“I am the vine, you are the branches” (verse 5). The first teaching is that in order to stay alive the branches must draw daily nourishment from him. In other words, we believers, we disciples, must stay connected to Jesus, and that connection must be strong. This teaching is not difficult for most of us to grasp. Even if we do not have green thumbs, even if we do not plant a garden or tend to some houseplants, most of us have watched plants grow. So we understand the metaphor. And we understand that one branch of the plant won’t do well if we separate it from the main stalk. A broken branch, barely connected, withers and dies… it doesn’t receive the water and nutrients it needs to thrive. And a branch that is completely disconnected withers and dies even faster. It has no chance at all to make it. This metaphor suggests that Jesus is your life source. You need him to survive. You need him to thrive. Without Jesus, you can’t make it. Have you learned this, or are you still trying to have it your own way? Do you believe this, or are you still fooled by the notion that you are an independent, self-sustaining creature? Are you doing your best to have a strong connection all the time, or do you just wait until your life begins to dry up and wither every once in a while?  You ought to try your best to stay connected. Come to worship. Keep praying. Read and reflect on God’s Word. Get fed and nourished, get juiced up, get powered up at the Lord’s Table. Jesus says, “Abide in me as I abide in you.”

“I am the vine, you are the branches.” The second teaching is that we are not planted in Christ simply to avoid withering… we are not planted in Christ simply to bear leaves… our true purpose is to bear fruit. And Jesus teaches, “Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”

And a third teaching: “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” What Jesus calls us to do in today’s Gospel – to “bear fruit” – is impossible. It’s not merely difficult. It’s not simply a struggle. It’s not just challenging and hard. IT’S IMPOSSIBLE! Jesus says, “For apart from me you can do nothing.” He didn’t say, “you can only do just do a little”. He didn’t say, “you can just do a few things”. What he said was this: “Apart from me you can do NOTHING.”  NO JESUS, NO FRUIT! 

Isn’t it odd that, on that last night of his earthly life, not long before his arrest, not long before his death, not long before his burial, Jesus wanted his disciples to understand – wants US to understand! – that though he was not going to be with his followers physically, he still expected them to depend on him, he still wanted them to stay connected. How do disciples of any time and place STAY connected, how do we ABIDE? Through the Spirit of Christ, through our humility and our hunger for God’s grace, through our public worship and our community of saints, through the Lord’s Supper, through our shared and private praying, through our hearing and reading of God’s Word, through our seeking to do good, through our seeking to do no harm. The key to being a Christian, the key to producing fruit, is seeking to grow closer to Jesus, knowing him more accurately, loving him more sincerely, and obeying him with faithful living and fervent loving.

Grapes will never grow and ripen from a branch that has been separated

     from the vine.

STAY CONNECTED TO JESUS.

BEAR FRUIT. Live the life, share the life and love, share Jesus with others. 

     NO JESUS, NO FRUIT. Because you are not abiding, you wither away…

    NO JESUS, NO FRUIT. Be warned – you may expect to be cast away. 

    Hell is not where we are sent, it’s where we choose to go because we have

     cut ourselves off from the true vine.

    DON’T ALLOW YOUR LOVE CONNECTION TO JESUS TO WITHER! 

Upcoming Events

Jun
19
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2024
10:30 am Whole Foods Distribution
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2024
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Sunday Worship Service
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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we will be gathering together for worship service on Zoom using the following information: MEETING ID: 5977365682 MEETING PASSWORD: 204934 You can also join us for...
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3
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2024
10:30 am Whole Foods Distribution
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2024
8:30 am Senior Food Box Distribution @ St. Peter's Rhoda Hall
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